Paradoxology: God of Love, God of War

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 6.45.26 PMApologetics in a postmodern world is looking less for historical proof, scientific demonstration, and systematic omniscience. Rather, it is looking for honest, open, and genuine probings that have less certitude while holding firm to belief in a good God who loves us but who has not created a world where everything ends up with happy emojis. Krish Kandiah explores in his new book the genuine paradoxes of the Bible in an open and honest manner. Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to be Simple will bless a new generation with a new kind of apologetics. [My blurb for the book.]


One of the Bible’s deep paradoxes and one that many people struggle with mightily — if they are honest and open and often they cannot be (but they were in some of my North Park classes) — is that God is a God of love and grace and compassion and, yet, yet, yet, that same God is said to be at work in the wars of Joshua, which Krish Kandiah calls the Joshua Paradox. I promise you that in April Greg Boyd’s about-to-be-available book called the Crucifixion of the Warrior God will set this discussion on edge. (It can be pre-ordered at the link at a deep discount.)

But this post is about Krish’s take on the Joshua Paradox. He begins where he should:

From the bloody massacres of the Crusades, through the mass killings of Mayans by the Spanish Conquistadors, to Afrikaaner oppressing black South Africans, or sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, so-called Christians have justified all sorts of atrocities, taking inspiration from the apparent ethnic cleansing God commanded in the Old Testament. When I read these portions of our history, or meet somebody who has suffered at the hands of religious persecution in the name of Jesus, I am frankly ashamed to call myself a Christian.

Those who don’t begin there are either hardened into some kind of divine command morality or into moral insensitivity. These wars are connected to God and they are a problem for morality. His question expresses that of many:

How can we take seriously the command of God to love our enemies, when he appears to ignore those injunctions himself?

But this too:

If we want to know God and follow Jesus, then it is not OK just to love some parts of the Old Testament – we need to learn to love it all. If we want a genuine relationship with our God and Saviour, we cannot edit his written word.

But in fact it is only by looking squarely at these difficult parts of the Bible that our faith can grow.

So Joshua’s task as they crossed into the Promised Land was to undertake a shock-and-awe exercise which looks like nothing short of genocide. The land was to experience ethnic cleansing, ordained by God. So that was precisely what Joshua did.

I have never heard a sermon on this subject. It doesn’t come up in Bible reading notes. Many preachers and teachers I have talked to evade these questions. Academics all come to very different conclusions.

Are you satisfied yet? What to do? First…

God’s patience in giving the Canaanites extra time stands in stark contrast to the first impression we get, if we just jump in at Joshua, of God randomly wiping out the Canaanites on a whim. God is not a bad-tempered bully who annihilates nations without cause. He is more like a compassionate gardener, who wants to see good come, but will take action eventually if it doesn’t.

Is this enough for you?

Without judgement and accountability for how individuals or nations act, then, there is no moral framework – the universe would be in anarchy. … Our sense of outrage and desire for justice go hand in hand with our expectation of a God who should hold the world to account.

God is not just clearing the land for his people; he is holding the Canaanites accountable for atrocities committed. It is hard to imagine anything worse than the slaughter of children – the taking of innocent lives. They have sunk as low as it is possible to go. We should be relieved that people will not get away with murder – God will hold the world to account. Far from indicating the lack of a moral framework for us to count on, these passages show clearly that there is just such a framework, and God is in charge.

Does the justice of God require the judgment of God?

The command to kill all the inhabitants of a city is limited to the Canaanite invasion. In other warfare contexts ‘terms of peace’ are always to be offered. The ‘total destruction’ clause is reserved specifically to the judgement on the Canaanites, and God specifically tells the Israelites not to use the Canaanite conquest as a model for how they should relate to other nations.

These are bronze-age peoples. … In fact, God’s institution of the rule that conquered nations outside Canaan must be offered ‘terms of peace’ was quite revolutionary.

Perhaps some exaggeration and hyperbole, perhaps some military on military and not just random genocide… but will these clear up the problems?

The Joshua Paradox shows us a terribly compassionate God who displays incredible patience and mercy before bringing down judgement. The parable of the wheat and weeds — where does it end? Patience followed by the judgment of God. God’s “patience is meaningless without his eventual judgement; his judgement is merciless without his extreme patience.”

My point would be this: we struggle with the reality of a judgment in the Bible while everyday we watch our friends on FB castigate others, long for justice and long therefore for some kind of judgment. Justice in the face of evil both names the evil and eradicates it, and the only want to eradicate it is either through repentance/reformation or judgment. Those most vocal today about justice are the most vocal then about an implicit belief in judgment.

The question then is not if God was unjust but if the Canaanites had done sufficient evil to deserve judgment.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.